You know, down here in South Carolina—or up here, over here, back here, depending on where you live—politics is all about the party. It’s the ‘R’ and the ‘D’ and, used to be, never the twain shall meet. But then South Carolinians elected Nikki Haley, the Transparent Nikki Haley, to the governor’s office and now, at least for the moment, the ‘R’s and the ‘D’s are on the same side.
See, last month Nikki tried to zero out money for the arts in her state budget plan and both parties said ‘No.’
The South Carolina House and Senate, both controlled by the GOP, worked together to override Haley’s veto of $1.9 million in funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission. The House vote was 105-8; the Senate 32-6.
“We had strong, solid bi-partisan support,” said Democratic Congressman James Smith, Jr., who started the legislature’s arts caucus. “It’s a smart investment for our state. It means jobs and economic opportunity and a better quality of life.”
South Carolina is just one of many states that have tried to severely cut arts programs in the past year; thirty-one states ultimately cut their art funding, and in Kansas, GOP governor, Sam Brownback, actually eliminated all funding for the arts.
So, seeing that the mood nationwide seemed to be leaning toward eliminating funding for the arts, it appeared that Haley’s plan to do the same would be foolproof, and fighting it off might be next to impossible. Until the ‘R’s and the ‘D’s decided to work together.
Betty Plumb, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance: “It was very emotional. The people spoke up and said the state should take a leadership role in funding the only agency that provides access to the arts for everyone.”
Robert Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, calls the arts “big business in South Carolina.” Well, not really big; the arts funding accounts for just .032 percent of South Carolina’s $6 billion budget, but keeping the funding for the arts commission helps the state to develop its creative industries, which return more than $9.2 billion to South Carolina and supports more than 78,000 jobs. That’s a pretty great return on investment, something Guv’nah Nikki don’t understand. And she also didn’t understand that nearly all South Carolinians—some 92%—favor public funding for the arts.
It’s not all good news, however; funding levels for the arts in South Carolina are 16% lower in this budget than in last year’s, and 55% lower than in 2008. So the arts do, and did, take a hit this year as in years past, but it wasn’t completely eliminated.
But, while I am a huge proponent of arts funding, and I see what a difference it can make, even in my own small town, the greatest thing of all was seeing the Republicans and the Democrats—in freaking South Carolina of all places, one of the reddest states out there—work together to keep the arts going.
And smacking down Nikki Haley in the process was just a bonus.
A brilliant bonus.